GOALS. County Manager Angela Harris, right, goes over a list of goals that she wanted commissioners to prioritize as a guideline for budget preparations. (Times photos by Carey Johnson)
LOUISBURG -- Franklin County commissioners identified bolstering their water supply, improving access to broadband, better emergency radio communications, airport improvements, health care, guiding growth, an aquatics center and raising employee pay as their top priorities heading into budget discussions for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
County Manager Angela Harris solicited the commission's priorities during the March 12 budget retreat, using board member input as a guide to prepare the county's next spending plan.
"We'll put this together [to help draft the budget]," Harris told commissioners following the two-hour session.
To aid commissioners setting their priorities, staff provided them, essentially, with a work sheet, that allowed them to examine county goals, ranging from expanding senior center offerings, to marketing the county to bolstering public utilities -- and give them a weighted score.
During the retreat, commissioners, minus David Bunn who did not attend the retreat, identified the county's water supply study, broadband service, radio communications, the airport, health care, affordable housing, county planning, an aquatics center and pay raises as their top priorities.
With that said, Commission Chair Sidney Dunston reminded department heads, some of whom were in attendance, that commissioners would try to meet county needs while trying to be fiscally responsible.
"... I'm sure that those who come with budget requests this year, I'm sure that you're well aware of our approach, and our objective, of course, is to be as friendly as we possibly can be, but at the same time, to be as frugal as we need to be," said Commission Chair Sidney Dunston.
"So, when you make your requests, I'm sure you're aware of where we stand and where we are," he said.
"I believe the past few years, we've been very, very generous in our approach to the budget and we will try to be as generous as we possibly can this year; but, in the same vein, consider the hard times that we live in."
One of the priorities that prompted prolonged dialogue during the March 12 meeting was employee pay raises.
In October, at Dunston's request, commissioners agreed to give Harris a 17 percent pay raise -- taking her salary from $127,992 to $150,000.
Commissioner Harry Foy said he wanted to make sure that other employees received a pay hike, too.
"I was under the understanding that somehow, we were going to be able to do it for all the rest of the county employees; you know, spread the wealth, not just for one, but for all," he said.
Harris said a pay study is underway to do just that.
She also defended the pay increase she received.
Dec. 12, 2019 marked 12 years as the county's manager, Harris said.
"In the 12 years, the board has not once had any discussion about increases or raises [to my salary]," she said, for clarity.
"That's highly unusual for a county manager," she said, also noting that it's unusual for a county manager to work without a contract, but "I'm good with that.
"... I've advocated for two pay studies [for employee pay raises] in my 12 years," she said. "Neither of those pay studies was I included in, so I advocated for others to get those increases."
Dunston said Harris didn't have to explain her increase any more and commissioners are preparing to take care of county employees.
And, he said Foy should understand the county's plan for its employees.
"You keep talking about [Harris's raise] like we're neglecting everybody else," Dunston said. "We're not neglecting everybody else.
"As a matter of fact, the things that are being addressed in the study will ensure that we make everybody equitable.
"... We're running to, indeed, make sure that everybody else is treated equally across the board," Dunston said. "What was given to you was because you deserved it. and we didn't do you right in the beginning.
"Everybody else was brought in at the level they were supposed to be brought in at," he said. "And that's where they are."